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December 18, 2018

Zulfikar Bukhari: A hope for overseas Pakistanis


Tue, Dec 18, 2018

Pakistan is a country forged out of the movements of people. Million migrated during the partition making it the largest migration in modern history. That migration has continued with 9 million Pakistanis travelling overseas due to lack of local access to resources, a desire for economic prosperity, to find or engage in paid work or further their education, to better their standard of living.

Overseas Pakistanis are proud of their heritage and carry their ancestry across the globe with pride becoming ambassadors of Pakistan in their respective foreign countries. We give Pakistan an economic lifeline with our remittances. A staggering $2billion per month on an average is a blessing in disguise, acting as a catalyst in growth and investments. It is one of the primary sources of foreign exchange reserves with an annual subscription of more than $25 billion.

Despite a wide gap in the dollar rates in open and banking markets Pakistanis have stood fast in retaining their culture of remitting back home and have widely entrusted the country's banks and other legal avenues for transfer of funds. The State Bank of Pakistan has stated that Pakistan has fared relatively better than other regional countries concerning foreign remittances.

When the call for help comes, whether it is for building a new school, a new hospital or new road, we answer the call, even though we most probably will never use the facilities ourselves. We ask and want nothing other than what was promised to us from our founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah who stated “Equality, justice and fair play to everybody”. He insisted that every member of its civil and military services serve all its people while keeping in mind Islam’s greatest ideals of “brotherhood, equality and fraternity”.

Special Assistant to Prime Minister Syed Zulfikar Bukhari has begun initiating and implementing a reformative agenda to ensure the concerns pertaining to Overseas Pakistanis are at the forefront of the Government agenda.

The abolishment of the National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistan for expatriates living abroad, who wish to travel to Pakistan. Replacing the archaic complaints system with a digitization of departmental affairs. The minister pledges for one-day processing of the complaints related to overseas Pakistanis.

The ministry’s digital 24/7 complainant cell ‘Call Sarzameen’ in its office is working efficiently to quickly address the forwarded complaints of expatriates pertaining to the ministry.

'Naya Pakistan Calling' will provide a gateway to the professional Pakistani diaspora living abroad to share their skills and knowledge for national development. Introducing measures for increased use of banking channels by removing red tapes and create a conducive environment to overseas foreign investors for the development and prosperity of the country.

There are many things a government can do to protect the rights of overseas Pakistanis from the difficulties we face and the burdens we bear. Structural changes and a mindset from those in power can achieve the outcomes we desire.

The Chief Justice of Pakistan congratulated overseas Pakistanis noting that it was the first time that expat Pakistanis will be voting in a local election, but we also want the entitlement for dual nationals to be able to take part in Pakistan’s political process without giving up our nationality. If you give us the democratic right to vote then surely it is common sense to give us the democratic right to stand as candidates.

We want our grievances to be resolved by setting up a fast track tribunal to hear the facts and see evidence cases to be resolved within 6-12 months maximum with the dates of hearings to fit around overseas victim.

Land mafias, backed by politicians and protected by the police have far too long controlled our assets and denied us justice. Where corruption is revealed in officials who were complicit in denying overseas Pakistanis' their rights, they should be held accountable and arrested, prosecuted and sentenced in public to teach lessons to others.

Tax break for investors and Free Zones for overseas investors with subsidised customs and excise duty for different periods depending on levels of investment and or innovation. World Bank confirms they create jobs and as a result stimulate the local economy.

To increase travel between the two countries the government should invest and improve Pakistan’s national carrier PIA to maintain & attract new custom and stimulate tourism.

Consulates, Embassies and High Commissions across the world should facilitate the countrymen by providing quality public services and customer care. They need to be proactive and deal with backlogs and meet the needs of the citizens.

The reformative agenda introduced by Syed Zulfikar Bukhari demonstrate that PM Khan has made a perfect choice for this post. Unlike many others that have held this position before, Syed Zulfikar Bukhari understands the needs and aspirations of overseas Pakistanis. He left a very successful property business in London to take up a post with no government salary, no government car and no government accommodation with the desire only to serve his country just like all overseas Pakistanis desire to do in a country free of corruption and nepotism.

He has the confidence of Overseas Pakistanis, British Parliamentarians and his agenda for change should be encouraged and supported. I cannot understand why someone who is responsible for the welfare of Overseas Pakistanis was prevented from travelling overseas to meet the very people he serves. He needed to hear our concerns and listen to our stories first hand and not be confined by bureaucracy and petty political games.

Much has been done and much is in the pipeline to be done, but as demonstrated with the right person, the right vision and the right team dealing with the affairs of Overseas Pakistani’s we can finally see that the Politics of Hope overcoming the Politics of Despair and the vision of our founder, finally beginning to be delivered for Overseas Pakistanis.

The writer is former Councillor and Member of UK Prime Minister’s Ethnic Minority Task Force and Congress of Regional Authorities on Council of Europe, Strasbourg